The power of trade
The World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting to be held early next month in Qatar will be successful. No matter what agreements are struck, the sheer fact that trade representatives will meet, and explore how their countries can mutually benefit from each other, will be a triumph. While this sentiment may have seemed vacuous and wistful before Sept. 11, it has suddenly become pragmatic and expedient.
Indeed, the role of trade in bridging cultural and political divides has come into focus. Quite recently, the United States and the European Union voiced their support of Russia joining the WTO, China formally became a WTO member and the United States struck a trade deal with Jordan.
For all that President Bush was initially hounded about a mythical ineptitude regarding all things foreign, he has succeeded in making Russia a strategic and commercial partner. Russia readily volunteered to be a partner in America’s terrorist-busting coalition, hoping no doubt for carte blanche on the question of Chechnya. And the administration’s support of Russia’s entry into the WTO, also signals Russia’s willingness to tackle some of the regulatory inefficiencies that are a drag on economic growth. Russian lawmakers will undoubtedly feel increased pressure to pass laws that would make the tax system more transparent, lower tariffs and reduce obstacles to foreign investments in Russia.
In a Sept. 28 speech in Moscow, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said that Mr. Bush made clear during his campaign for president and after he assumed office “that his policy towards Russia was based on a clear recognition that the Cold War is over.” And while the United States must continue to raise pressing human rights concerns regarding Russia’s slaughter of Chechens, the rapport between Mr. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin is clearly in U.S. interests. In his Moscow speech, Mr. Zoellick said that he had agreed with EU Commissioner Pascal Lamy to complete a draft by early next year detailing the conditions Russia would need to meet to enter the WTO.
In the case of China, the previous administration, while making grievous errors that compromised U.S. security vis-a-vis Beijing, certainly laid the groundwork for China’s entry to the WTO. China’s WTO membership will not only benefit U.S. consumers and corporations, it will also considerably raise the opportunity cost price tag of armed conflict.
Finally, the trade deal with Jordan significantly signals U.S. willingness to strike trade partnerships with countries in the Middle East. Given the current context, the goodwill between the two countries provides a crucial example for the rest of the region. In view of these recent successes, the United States should hit the ground running at the WTO in November.